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The Rolling Stones Take Their Rock & Roll Circus Back on the Road

Page 5 of 5

What's more, Richards feels the band has already made it over the rough patch – the public rift between him and Jagger that was the subject of so much talk about 10 years ago. "We were just tired of always being the Rolling Stones," Richards says. "And since we couldn't find a way out, we started fighting and smashing it all to pieces. At that point, you either break up or weather the storm and never break those bones in the same place again." He pauses to stub out and light another cigarette, then says, "If we made it through the 1980s, we can go on forever."

Arriving at rehearsal from their homes in England and Ireland, the other members of the Stones seem a bit out of sorts. They have entered a strange country – rock & roll on the road – and must adjust to a change in time and climate. For Richards, however, everything seems just right – as if the plane landed, bringing him home. "I'm all messed up when a tour ends," he concedes. "Eight o'clock rolls around, and I'm looking for the gig. And what I really miss is the police motorcade. Even better than a platinum record is going through a Manhattan rush hour in 20 minutes."

In the course of the tour, unless something goes very wrong, Richards will leave the business dealings to Jagger, concerning himself instead with the rises and falls in the road. "Whenever we play outdoors, God joins the band," he says, dragging on his cigarette. "Suddenly, there is this other guy in the band, and he shows up in the form of wind or rain or whatever, and we've got to be ready to play with him."

When asked how long he thinks the Stones can endure – can a band of rock musicians play past age 60? – Richards stubs out his cigarette, lights another, inhales, exhales and declares: "Man, I don't know how long I'm gonna live. I was No. 1 on the death list for 20 years. Here's all I know: I look around and say, 'There's Mick, there's Charlie, and here's me, and we're the Rolling Stones, and God knows how that happened.' It's just you and your mates from way back. And then you start playing, and it feels the same as it did in the beginning. You might feel like dog shit two minutes before a show, but the minute you hit the crowd, you feel great. It's a cure for everything, and I recommend it for everybody."

Richards exhales and stubs out his cigarette. When he reaches for the pack, when he shakes it and looks inside and sees that it's empty, our discussion, in the most profound way, is over. "Come on, my boy," he says, standing. "Ronnie has a pack over in the gymnasium, and we're gonna start rehearsing again anyway."

The hour is late, but the Stones keep pushing back into the past. Tonight, they have returned to 1976 and are winding through a mournful version of "Memory Motel," from Black and Blue. Jagger, on the far side of the gym, is on keyboards and looking across the floor at Richards, who has found a cigarette. It dangles from the corner of his mouth. And his right arm, working slowly over the guitar, looks like something left too long in the wind and the rain.

Watts is sitting at his drums. His eyes are closed, his chin is resting on his chest, and he is waiting for the moment to come in. Wood, sitting on a stool, is looking down at the slide guitar on his lap, which he works at like a man solving logarithms. On some nights, wives come to rehearsal and stand around like mothers at a Little League game. "I asked the kids if they wanted to come," says Richards' wife, Patti Hansen, one evening. "And they said no, that Daddy is no fun when he's with his friends."

But tonight it's just the Stones, those great weathered faces, faces as recognizable and suggestive of mystery as those on Easter Island, faces that tell of a culture lost, of the rock & roll circus of the '70s. Sometimes, as he sings, Jagger walks through some of his concert moves (puckering his lips, shaking his hips), but it's just a walk-through, and it's clear that what he's thinking of is the music. The Stones might as well be playing in a garage. And what you really hear is what a good band they still are.

As "Memory Motel" winds down, Jagger stands at the keyboards, and his eyes go very far away. When the song ends, everyone is silent. "Ronnie, write that one down," Jagger finally says. "That sounds like something we can keep."

This is a story from the August 25, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone.


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